Thomas C. Alber
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Thomas C. Alber grew up as an American in post World War II Japan and had to deal with issues related to his bilingualism and biculturalism. After moving to Los Angeles with his mother in 1964, Alber was encouraged in all areas of study, including the sciences, through his involvement with the Independent Program School at University High School in Los Angeles. This unique high school experience helped Alber choose the University of California, Santa Cruz for his undergraduate studies because of its non-traditional structure. At Santa Cruz, Alber worked in Anthony L. Fink’s enzyme mechanism laboratory and pursued an opportunity to perform research with Gregory A. Petsko at Wayne State University. his research experience solidified his future interests in chemistry and biochemistry over other fields, such as the history of science. With a Danforth Foundation Graduate Fellowship, Alber undertook graduate research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), first under Alexander Rich and later under Petsko (when Petsko joined the MIT faculty). traveled as a graduate student to do research at various laboratories including those at the University of California, San Diego, the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of Oxford. After earning his PhD, Alber started his postdoctoral research with Brian W. Matthews at the University of Oregon. Since Matthews was involved with the interdisciplinary Institute of Molecular Biology, Alber continued his pattern of research and study in a non-traditional setting. While finishing his postdoctoral research, Alber authored “Mutational effects on Protein Stability,” in the Annual Review of Biochemistry in 1989. In this article, he proposed departing from the traditional model system of structural protein research and instead stressed the importance of all possible hydrogen-binding sites, the external amino acids on the rigid portion of the active site, the relative unimportance of the so-called ‘floppy part,’ and the necessity for flexibility in a protein. Alber’s movement from the University of Oregon to the University of Utah and then on to the University of California, Berkeley allowed him to reflect on the American model of university science, the ways in which that model differs at a range of institutions, and the ways in which it varies from science in other nations. Alber’s oral history ends with a discussion of the ways in which Alber’s laboratory life changed over a ten-month period in 1993 right after he joined the faculty at Berkeley.
|1976||University of California, Santa Cruz||BA|
|1981||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||PhD|
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
University of Oregon
University of Utah
University of California, Berkeley
University of California President's Undergraduate Fellowship
Graduate Fellowship, Danforth Foundation
Postdoctoral Fellowship, Helen Hay Whitney Foundation
Fellowship, Medical Research Foundation of Oregon
|1988 to 1992||
Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences
Table of Contents
Growing up in Japan. Difficulties associated with bilingualism andbiculturalism. Moving to the United States after parents divorced. Adjusting to the United States.
High School education in Bel Air, California. Participating in theIndependent Program School. Love of nature and wildlife (includinga brief description of Eugene, Oregon).
Choosing University of California, Santa Cruz. Exposure to the History and Philosophy of Science. Joining Anthony L. Fink's laboratory. General experience of undergraduates in a research laboratory.
Enzyme reactions and x-ray crystallography in low-temperature organicsolvents. Research with Greg Petsko at Wayne State University.
Choosing MIT for graduate school. Switching from Alexander H. Rich to Greg Petsko as an advisor. Political involvement with respect to recombinant DNA.
Patents and patentable work.
Research on low-temperature x-ray crystallography at the University of California, San Diego. Research at the University of California, Berkeley. Research at Oxford University.
Visits China with mother. Views on Chinese science versus American and British science.
Choosing Brian W. Matthews' laboratory. Why he stayed for so long. Difficulties of finding a faculty position. Meeting his future wife.
Research progression from graduate school, through post-doc, to hisown lab. Similarities and Differences. Pew Funding and its benefits. Different scientific atmospheres at different institutions
Teaching experiences and expectations. Children and tenure. Women in faculty positions.